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  • Implantation Bleeding Vs. Menstruation: Do the Pink or Brown Spots Mean You're Pregnant?

    Many women mistake implantation bleeding for their monthly period.
    by Kate Borbon .
Implantation Bleeding Vs. Menstruation: Do the Pink or Brown Spots Mean You're Pregnant?
PHOTO BY iStock
  • The first trimester of pregnancy can be a tricky stage. Your body is adjusting itself for the various changes pregnancy will bring, but each woman can exhibit different symptoms, which are similar when you expect your menstruation. One of the early pregnancy symptoms that can be mistaken for your period is implantation bleeding. Learn more about what it is and whether it is a reliable symptom of pregnancy below.

    Implantation bleeding symptoms

    According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA) implantation bleeding occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the interior lining of the uterus, also known as the endometrium.

    What to Expect explains how it happens. When an egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm, the embryo begins to divide and grow and send signals to the woman’s body to prepare itself for pregnancy. The endometrium begins to change by continuing to grow and mature to protect the embryo for nine months.

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    In the six to 12 days following fertilization, the embryo moves to the uterus then attaches itself to the endometrium. There, it becomes reliant on the mother’s body for the oxygen and nutrients it needs. It is this movement of the embryo to the uterus, which can cause little blood vessels to burst, can cause implantation bleeding.

    Implantation bleeding sounds slightly worrying, but the APA says it should not cause concern or pose any risk to a developing baby.

    The APA lists the most common symptoms of implantation bleeding:

    • Light or faint cramping (less than a normal period cramp)
    • Mood swings
    • Headaches
    • Nausea
    • Breast tenderness
    • Lower backaches

    As mentioned, the symptoms are almost identical to signs of ovulation (the release of mature eggs from the ovaries) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the symptoms most women experience in the weeks approaching their next menstrual cycle.

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    Implantation bleeding vs. menstruation

    Because implantation bleeding typically occurs a few days before a woman has her period, it can be mistaken for menstruation. However, there are a few key differences to help you distinguish the two.

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    First is cramping. Obstetrician-gynecologist Anuja Vyas, M.D., FACOG tells Parents that cramping associated with implantation bleeding usually doesn’t last as long as menstrual cramping, even if it can be intense.

    The color of discharge during implantation bleeding is also different from menstruation. Implantation bleeding is usually bright to dark red, while period blood usually ranges from light pink to dark brown.

    In menstruation, some women may experience clotting, but in implantation bleeding, the APA says there should be no clots. Implantation bleeding also typically involves only spotting or a light flow, whereas, during their menstrual cycle, most women can fill up multiple pads. Parents also says that implantation bleeding can be on-off throughout its duration, compared to menstruation, which tends to be more consistent.

    Lastly, while menstruation can take between three and seven days, implantation bleeding usually only lasts between a few hours and three full days. Jay M. Berman, M.D., FACOG, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Wayne State University, tells Parents, “Some women experience implantation bleeding as heavy as the first day of their menstrual cycle, but it typically only lasts a couple of days.”

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    Despite these key differences, it can still be difficult for women to tell whether they’re experiencing implantation bleeding or if it’s just their period. One way to help yourself is to be aware of what a ‘normal’ period is for you. If you experience bleeding that seems a bit different your normal period or if you have been attempting to get pregnant, then it might be time to take a pregnancy test.

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    Is implantation bleeding a symptom of pregnancy?

    Implantation bleeding is considered an early symptom of pregnancy. However, just because you experience pinkish or brownish spotting does not necessarily mean you are pregnant, says the APA. Parents notes the discharge you have during implantation bleeding can be indistinguishable from normal spotting or breakthrough bleeding experienced by women on birth control or with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so this may not be the best symptom to look out for when it comes to pregnancy.

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    The best way to confirm if you are pregnant or not is to take a pregnancy test at least three days after the bleeding stops. Dr. Vyas says that any woman who has been sexually active within the last month needs to take a pregnancy test if she experiences any kind of irregular bleeding.

    According to the APA, if you take a pregnancy test after your period was supposed to happen and get a negative result, chances are you are not pregnant.

    When to call your doctor if you are bleeding

    Healthline says all bleeding that occurs during pregnancy is abnormal and must be reported to your doctor. “Even though not all bleeding is an emergency or a sign of complications, your doctor will likely want to perform tests, such as a vaginal ultrasound, to figure out the cause.”

    While implantation bleeding does not necessarily have to be a cause for concern, seeking medical attention can still be beneficial. According to the APA, light bleeding — aside from implantation — that occurs anytime during pregnancy can be caused by factors such as irritation of the cervix (especially after medical exams), irritation or small tears that take place during sex, vaginal infections, or heavy or excessive exercise.

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    On the other hand, bleeding that is not related to implantation or menstruation, such as bleeding that takes place after you get a positive pregnancy test, might be an indication that you are experiencing first trimester bleeding, a type of bleeding that 15 to 25% of women undergo in their first months of pregnancy.

    While first trimester bleeding is not something to be worried about — most women who experience it still have normal and healthy pregnancies — it does need to be monitored. If you experience any sort of spotting during your first trimester, make sure to contact your ob-gyn.

    In other cases, bleeding after a positive pregnancy test can be a sign of either an ectopic pregnancy (a condition where the embryo attaches itself to a place other than the uterus, such as the fallopian tubes), a molar pregnancy (a condition where the sperm fertilizes an empty egg which does not form a baby and leads to a growth of abnormal tissue within the uterus), or a miscarriage. For this reason, it is important to contact your doctor and inform them of the symptoms you experience.

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    Finally, Mayo Clinic advises that if you are concerned about any bleeding you experience whether you are pregnant or not, talk to your doctor.

    To know what changes and symptoms you can expect during your first week of pregnancy, click here.

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